In memory of Amanda Todd, a girl I never knew…whose loss I grieve.
In honor of my dance partner, Raymond Wall, born to make music…whom I’ll never forget.
For “Targets” everywhere…who suffer in silence.
Few are the giants of the soul who actually feel that the human race is their family circle.
~Freya Stark, explorer and writer
It isn’t about you. Please hear me.
Some people just feel taller standing on the backs of others.
What feels so devastating to you in the moment is nothing but a mindless sport to your opponent. It has everything to do with them—hungering for a sense of power that they are unable to feel on their own.
Their conduct has everything to do with choice.
Most people think of bullies as the schoolyard variety. They assume that adults leave childish behaviors behind. We don’t think much about adult bullies unless we find ourselves –or someone dear– on the receiving end of their self-loathing.
Adult Bully. It sounds like a contradiction of terms. It pretty much is. Adult is usually equated with the word mature and there is nothing mature about a bully of any age. So what do you call a grown-ass person who has chosen to bully? When I pick word meanings apart, the best I can come up with is full grown bully.
I never knew what it felt like to be the target of a bully. Not until I was in my 30’s. I don’t speak of it often. But for now, I will.
Someone out there needs a kindred spirit. I feel it in my bones.
Forget, for a minute, about wife-beaters, faded jeans and the requisite can of Bud. Most attacks at this stage of the game won’t be physical. They are verbal. Psychological.
The sense of power derived is short lived because a pseudo power never yields long-term satisfaction…but it is the best they’ve felt about themselves in God knows how long, so they pounce when opportunity presents itself again with the anticipation of a tweeker looking for the next high.
Maybe your full grown bully has the appearance of someone who feels good about themselves, dons the immaculate head-to-toe white collar ensemble… but has an unshakeable narcissism that seems to require putting others down.
Full grown bullies often get paid well for putting others down. They are celebrated for it.
Maybe your bully is one whose greatest advantage is their subtlety…so skilled at what they do it would be damn near impossible to prove or document. They are passive-aggressive in their delivery. Backhanded. Usually female.
But the truth is that people do see.
Some of those people fall right in and become drones. A vehicle with no pilot. Chances are that they’d never dream of initiating such behavior, but they notice. Maybe you’ve never been anything but kind to this person—never hurt them nor offended them– but at some point, they choose to side with the one they perceive to be the most powerful. Isn’t it sad how people mistake kindness for weakness? Secondary bullies are concerned more than anything–with protecting themselves.
The others who see? This is the silent majority. By choice, they provide the world with a never-ending supply of passive bystanders. They give their unspoken consent by saying…nothing. For this reason, more than any other, bullying has become an ongoing, ever-increasing, socially acceptable behavior.
When a schoolyard/ mean girl bully becomes a full grown bully, there really isn’t anything you can do other than to ignore them or avoid them. They have no interest in working things out. They have no interest in compromise. Their primary interest is power and domination; to feel important and preferred. They accomplish this by bringing others down. It is what they do best.
Of all the awesome things in this world to do well…growing beautiful gardens, feeding people delicious meals, constructing impressive buildings, re-vamping a worn-out community, making music, being the best parent you can be, making someone’s day a little sweeter…they choose, instead, to destroy.
With intention, they set out to inflict pain. They diminish, ignore, humiliate, and render their chosen target insignificant.
But you are not insignificant anymore than they are powerful.
Their psychological shortcomings have absolutely nothing to do with you.
Here’s the thing: You have to save yourself. Even in a world filled with people standing by, the giants of the soul are out there lifting cars off of people with their bare hands. Those are the super-heroes of the world and when just one of those super-heroes jumps into action, others follow, never doubting for a second that they can lift 5000 pounds of dead weight off of their fellow human trapped underneath. And they do.
The passive bystanders are in a big sandbox somewhere with their feet poking out, pitifully safe. Not a place you’d ever want to find yourself trapped underneath a vehicle. Not a place you’d ever want to be when you are the chosen target of a bully.
If you are lucky, like me, you can walk away. I wasn’t bullied in school or the workplace. My situation was in a setting where I had complete freedom to walk away. So after a decade, I did. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. There was so much sweetness waiting on the other side. Divine appointments, people who needed what I had to offer, and still others who were there to heal my soul.
On the other side were the super-heroes. Kind-hearted people who make waking each day a joy.
I love waking up. With each new sunrise, God delivers two offerings without fail and tucks them right underneath my pillow: brand new mercies and the gift of free will. What we do with those gifts for the rest of the day…is up to us.
We get to choose.
And that, right there…is enough to make me want to wear a cape.
Stay with me. Let’s fly.
There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.
~Harry Crews, novelist and playwright
You know that game shrinks play when they show their patients pictures of objects and ask them to say the first word that comes to mind? My son played that game with me on April 19th. Only he didn’t show me a photo…he mentioned your name.
Kind. Very kind. The answer came quick and easy. But your name doesn’t bring to mind one word. One word isn’t enough.
Pure-hearted. Sincerely good. Everyday.
That is what I remember most about you.
It seems after all these years, you’ve left the same impression on my son. While your paths crossed, I never knew. Professionally for the both of you. And that time you pulled him over not so long ago while he was driving that old blue geo metro that looked as though it would fall apart right then and there.
Thank you for all you do…for being discerning. In a world filled with muddied agendas, I appreciate that quality in humans more than words can say. Especially in your line of work.
May God surround you with His favor like a shield. I pray that you will be enveloped by His love and comfort and peace. Each morning when you rise to new mercies, I pray you remember that your counselor and defender neither slumbers nor sleeps.
In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.
See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.
~Isaiah 54: 14-17
You are a soldier.
There are more than a million reasons for you to stay…
…another season of Christmas lights…the rush of endorphins…eye contact that melts your heart…a new flavor of Blue Bell …a lifetime of sunsets…the best kiss ever…all those simple pleasures that are medicine to the soul…but most of all…
…someone needs what you have to offer.
Hard times get better…
…not because bullies become non-existent in the adult world. Sociopaths will always occupy space… at work, at family gatherings… very possibly right next-door. Their power is solely dependent on the psychological manipulation of others but you finally figure them out. They are self-loathing types with not one shred of self-control and you almost pity them.
They bully because it is what they do best.
Imagine the misery.
They aren’t best at something incredible like being artistic or playing the piano. They aren’t the best figure skaters or even the best athletes. They don’t love best. They don’t edify. They bully because they are best at malice, animosity, cruelty, contempt, nastiness… envy. They are best at being Godless.
It does get better…
…not because of any mood-regulating substance. Maybe you watch an episode of Ellen—an hour of simple joy at the expense of no one—and you discover laughter therapy—this incredible thing that comes from somewhere deep inside and heals your soul on its way out.
Kindness is refreshing.
Joy is contagious.
It gets better even while most people stagnate in complacency because the day comes when something changes inside of you. You figure out you’re at the mercy of no one. You get to set the boundaries of who and what you’ll subject yourself to. It is your quality of life. Your well-being. Who better to decide? The absence of oppression makes the world look different.
It becomes beautiful.
You become untouchable.
You become free to surround yourself with Architects rather than Wrecking Balls…those who have your best interest at ♥ heart ♥… those who validate your experience—and they do exist. They may not be who you hoped and very possibly those you least expected, but God is good. He makes provision for every sense of loss, betrayal, invalidation… every destructive word and every act of intentional cruelty.
Surrounded by love with no conditions, you are free to grow into that unique, irreplaceable soul you were always meant to be. You can offer your gifts and talents to a world that is much better with them than without them.
Your inward calling will be unstoppable.
You’ll be here to breathe life back into those who suffer as you once did. Instead of malice, you’ll offer kindness. Instead of animosity, you’ll offer love. You’ll eliminate cruelty in favor of mercy. Rather than contempt, you’ll offer respect. In the place of nastiness… compassion. Instead of envy… comfort.
You may very well be the one person who offers someone just enough hope to make it through another day.
P.S. I love you.
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Greek: Entugchano–“To light upon, by chance; to meet accidentally.”
Hebrew: Paga–“To intercede; light upon.”
And that, quite simply, explains it all–how we came to this Tuesday ritual of ours. It was quite by accident.
I wish I’d been around to comfort you when a homegrown terrorist took the life of your sister. When your marriage ended. When your mother passed away. When you were a little boy whose sweet world crumbled. As life would have it, many years and countless sorrows would pass before the timing was right.
God knew what He was doing.
I often wonder if I kind of missed it. So many times I passed you by on my way out of work in the wee hours of the morning– the end of my workday, the beginning of yours. I would have recognized you anywhere but we wouldn’t have had any reason to talk. That is…until I became a merchandiser for The Soda Mafia. You worked just across the way merchandising for The Chip Mafia.
You were ornery from the get-go. I crave orneriness the way most people crave…well…soda. I thrive on the stuff. You wasted no time growing my skin thicker with your own brand.
God definitely knew what He was doing.
Beneath your ornery surface was a measure of mercy like none I’ve never known before. You call yourself simple but to me, you are simply merciful.
Greek: Eleos–“Oil; soothing agent for wounds.”
Hebrew: Hesed–“Steadfast love.”
It is both mysterious and miraculous how wounded souls find one another. It is nothing but miraculous that our wounds happen to align in a symmetry of near perfection.
Yours is a wisdom born of great suffering. You are a courageous Intercessor–one capable of changing even the mind of the Most High. History reveals that it was only an Intercessor that could change God’s mind. You are a courageous Watchman. In the Old Testament, the Watchman at the wall performed the job of an Intercessor. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that your very name means Protector. Yours is a walk that combines both the priestly and the prophetic.
Some of the simplest advice you’ve given has proven to be profound:
~God gave you two ears and one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you speak.
~Be careful who you trust with the things you confide in God. You can’t ask Just Anyone to pray.
~It’s only chips and dip. (Your version of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”)
I wish I’d had those words–had you–long ago, but in the words of another wise soul (not nearly as wise as yourself) better late than never.
I still have those precious messages written in your hand, left for me to find on boxes at work. I sliced around them with a box knife so I could keep them forever. I display them in the laundry room, propped like art among the Tide and the Downy. When I step into my kitchen, I see the words “A friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” I don’t know who that quote belongs to but I’ve got one for you that I found through another kind soul who loves healing words.
“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~George Eliot
Sometimes other people’s words say the things I feel best.
Let me take this time to give you my own simple words.
You are so dear to me.
Thank you for taking upon yourself my own tears of grief in those times when you know that I need to be a rock.
Thank you for Tuesdays.
On those days when I wake, I pull back the curtain to look out on that fresh batch of mercy I find in the sunlight of every new morning and I say to my Creator, thank you for this day.
I pass through The Gates.
I walk ever so cautiously into the kitchen (because my muscles are so darn sore), straight to the coffee pot, grab Breezy’s ipod, and head back again to my room. I scroll to Kutless…click on “Take Me In”. I close my eyes and let the words wash over my sleepy brain cells.
I enter into The Courts.
I quietly sing along. Incense ignites. A fragrant cloud fills the room.
The Brazen Alter quickly becomes hindsight.
Tears fill my eyes. This thing, I cannot help. It happens every time. I feel it coming.
The Cloud of Glory descends…
…and I know you’ve come alongside me on this journey. You’ve torn through a veil of flesh, entered into the realm of Spirit, sprinted toward that beautiful place we always set out to find.
How sweet it is to reach our final destination.
The Mercy Seat.
After curtain calls and bows
I can’t see the front row now.
Hand me my red shoes
Just one more time…
You were never without vision. No matter your orientation, situation…addiction.
In the end, you knew what you wanted to do.
That is huge.
You would have taken all those collections…your father’s, your mother’s, your own…and started a business. Terry Toes Tea Room.
You told me where you wanted to rent space and the cool things you would have used to decorate.
But I don’t know anything about tea.
You would have learned and it would have been a kick-ass place. My Favorite, Michael, took me to such a place in New Orleans. It was totally you.
There just wasn’t enough time. You died when you were only 45 years old.
I learned so much from that. Almost frantically, I started my list. It was my Terry Toes List before I ever heard the term “Bucket List”.
Hand-stand push-ups. Check.
Harmonica. Check. (Heath bought me a set in every key).
Mountain biking. Check.
Vertical ballet barre. Check. No. It isn’t a stripper pole. It’s a vertical ballet barre and I bought it for myself on the occasion of my own 45th birthday. I pour my heart into it and I do ballet.
And shave off all the years now,
It’s all inside my head…
The boy in the red shoes is dancing beside my bed.
Put them in a box somewhere,
Put them in a drawer…
Take my red shoes,
I can’t wear them anymore.
When they took you away, I sat there on the front porch, William at the fence to my left. This was the very spot I had been introduced to you. It was the day of my senior pictures. My waist-length hair was Sun-In blonde.
When Nurse Doris left, there was only me, Phyllis, and Diane. We helped ourselves to one of your Miller Lites in the frig. It was ten-ish a.m. We sat in the living room…the site of so much joy and life and love. We told stories of you.
You met Diane in school when you were in first grade. You met Phyllis for the first time when you were six years old–even though you didn’t remember until you were 44. You remembered her from a game of “musical chairs” at someone’s birthday party where you cheated. The two of you both remembered and laughed.
Most of your friends were lifelong friends. Who can say that? Really? Who in this life keeps friends for a lifetime?
The day you died, your friends stopped by –a mosaic of a life– to shoot the breeze. I sat on that front porch as long as I could and then the new property owners arrived.
As I gathered my things, I went to your stereo and took your Elton John c.d. I said to Phyllis, “I hope no one minds.”
It was so strange to leave the place I’d known as my home-away-from-home since I was 17 years old. The place that had been home-away-from-home for all of my children since the day they entered the world.
Funerals are for the living so all I’ll say about yours is that it was one of the two most populated I’ve attended in my entire life. The other was for a police officer…another sis-in-law who passed far too early from this life when she was only one year older than you when you died.
My granddaughter was born nine months to the day after you passed away. I don’t believe in creepy things like reincarnation but I do believe that God always makes provision. I believe He always finds a way to give us joy unspeakable to compensate for times of sorrow. Her first home was the very same as her father’s first home –the home where both you and your mother left this life.
She’s six now. We sit together on your antique Federal Sofa. When she wants to talk in private or simply read a story, I say to her, “let’s go sit on Terry’s sofa.” She knows all about you.
She understands continuity. She understands that when we sit in the Memory Room, we are surrounded by the things you loved, the things your mother loved, and photographs of people we will always love. And that somehow, your mother’s love became engrained in the wood of her antique clocks as yours did in the upholstery of your Federal Sofa.
I guess you know that William lived out his last days with Heath. He lived six more years after you left. He was so happy with a boy who was born to be a dog’s best friend. When it was William’s time to go, some precious angel of a vet came to Heath’s house to help usher him into the next life. Heath and Breezy watched together as William closed his eyes. The part where he transitioned toward you and grandpa…they couldn’t see it but they did feel it.
Today Breezy and I listened to your Elton John c.d. She’s a senior now, the age I was when you and I met. Hair to her waist like me, but no Sun-In color. Hers is all natural–a glorious dark chocolate silk with fiery kisses of red.
I thought after 7 years, I would be strong enough to hear these songs. But I wasn’t. Maybe buried deep within the satisfaction of having done things your way, my grief is still raw. But I’m determined…kind of like a new thing on my Terry Toes List….I will listen until I cry no more.
Oh, the furnace wind
Is a flickering of wings about your face,
In a cloud of incense…
Yeah, it smells like heaven in this place.
~Elton John, “Songs from the West Coast”
You had compassion and mercy for all living things. There wasn’t a ruthless bone in your body.
I remember you walking up the steps of my front porch where a sad fern that had seen too many cold nights rested on a stand. Not many people would have taken notice but you did. You gently touched the leaves and said to no one in particular, It’ll live.
You taught me about root systems and growth patterns when I was choosing trees for my own landscape. You planted trees for your mother as gifts, making sure your parents could enjoy them from the windows inside the house. You and Theresa would then take care of them until the roots were well-established so that all your parents had to do was look outside and enjoy the beauty.
As much as you loved all things botanical, I’ll always remember your dogs. You always had dogs. You loved them and they loved you. William was no exception. He started his life with your brother and then went to live with your father. When your parents passed away, he became yours.
I remember the day you came driving by with the windows rolled down on a cold December afternoon. William had just gotten an extreme makeover. His fur had gone from looking like dreads to a coat so smooth and shiny, as if someone had taken a straightening iron to it. He sat so tall and proud in the passenger seat of your Jeep and I swear he was smiling. You had been driving him around for hours because he was feeling so handsome.
The worst Monday of my entire life was the last Monday I spent with you. Your lungs were filling with fluid and you struggled for every breath. Even so, you wanted to go sit outside on the front porch. You wanted to look at the trees and sit in the sunshine. It was hard getting you into the wheelchair that had once been your father’s. Your muscles no longer worked. Every part of you was tender to the touch. Pain wasn’t about to deter you.
There’s no one else I’d rather spend a horrible Monday with than you.
When the back door opened that day, William came running inside. I don’t know how many days had passed since your handsome dog had seen you but he was having no more of that. He sat near you for as long as he could until someone ushered him outside again.
As the minutes ticked, your discomfort increased. When it was darn near impossible to live in your own skin, it was time for morphine. You’d held off on that for as long as you could. When you finally gave in, it took the edge off.
That was late afternoon.
Heath came over after school. Phyllis came back after her work shift in the middle of the night. You asked her to sit with you on one side of the couch. You asked me to be your arm rest. For the first time that day, you were relaxed and comfortable. Quietly, you asked Phyllis to sing you a song and so she began…
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don’t take my sunshine away.
“Terry’s mother used to sing that song to all her kids and grandkids,” I said to Phyllis and it was almost as if your sweet mother was with us in that moment with you.
We sat together, the three of us, mostly in silence broken on occasion with something on your mind.
“Where’s Heath?” you wanted to know.
“He’s still here,” Phyllis answered.
“Is he ok?” you asked.
“He’s sound asleep on your antique sofa,” Phyllis told her.
You finally dozed off around 5 a.m.
Heath headed out for school right about the time your childhood friend, Diane arrived.
That’s about the time Phyllis decided to head to her house for some sleep. She was almost to the front door when something changed in your breathing pattern—a slight inconsistency that made us all stop in our tracks and walk slowly toward the couch where you slept.
A Holy silence filled the room. And then you breathed your last breath.
It was one of the most sacred things I’ve ever seen in my life.
April 27, 2004.
Nurse Doris came and very gently prepared you for your final departure from the house your parents built 40 years ago. While Doris poured out all your medication, Phyllis stayed inside to witness.
I followed the men who carried you out the front door, down the porch steps, past the trees, into the car.
William came running to the fence standing tall and brave, loyal…knowing. He watched until you were long gone.
This adjective, more than any other, describes you best. Unassuming, gentle, unpretentious, unpresuming, free from pride, without arrogance, peaceable, tolerant.
I learned more about being kind-hearted from a lesbian who drank Miller Lite everyday than I ever did from church folk. I suppose it was all of the above that made the difference– those hidden-away qualities rooted deeply in the heart that God, himself searches for and holds dear.
Even when the rest of the world judges you.
I remember how much you loved your job working for the city and one day I asked you what it was that made you love it so much.
God lets me be in the right place at the right time. One day, I found an old man who’d fallen in his yard and couldn’t get himself up. I got to help him to his feet and get him into his house. Sometimes I see dogs that don’t have homes. I bring them food.
I remember when my man was deployed and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. You invited me and my little ones over so you could play funny songs for them on your computer. All you wanted to do was to make them laugh– to make life a little sweeter if only for a tiny piece of time.
But those tiny pieces of reality become the memories they carry with them forever.
You know how sometimes we see a familiar face but we aren’t quite sure where it was that we saw that face? There’s usually a feeling attached to the vision, good or bad. Rarely neutral. We may not remember where we know them from but we always remember how they made us feel.
Everywhere we went, people knew you. I’d watch their eyes light with positive recognition. They were always happy to see you because you always made people feel good.
I moved into your hospital room on a Wednesday. I got you settled back at home late Friday night. In between, they determined that not only was cancer in your breast– but also in your lungs, your brain, your liver, and your bones.
The female doctor who was always with those two guys I wanted to drop-kick who told me you were too weak to go home…she came back in to see you one more time, head held high, eyes filled with tears that she somehow kept from spilling. I’m glad you’re going home. I don’t blame you. I can see you have friends who love you. It was so nice to meet you, Terry.
You were sitting upright, dangling your feet over the edge of the bed, taking your eyes off the clock only long enough to look into hers. You had a smile in your eye, thankful that someone had caught on to what you had known all along.
Only a few friends stopped by that Friday night when we got you home. It really was late. There was Doris, the Hospice nurse. Phyllis joined us after her bartending shift to spend the night. I slept while the two of you visited. She went home in the morning to get some sleep. I answered the door all day Saturday for the friends who came to visit you.
It made you tired. Too tired. So tired you became frustrated. Downright grouchy. Because of that, I decided to be selective. Tough.
On Sunday, a man and a younger man I’d never seen before rang the doorbell. I tried to tell them you were resting. Then I saw the sorrow in their eyes. I couldn’t keep them from you. I just couldn’t.
I brought them in and they sat with you on the couch. You listened as the older of the two told you his troubles. I’ll never forget what you said to him.
When I feel the way you feel, I close my eyes and I thank God. I just thank him and I praise him.
When that man left, there was no more sorrow in his eyes.
You had given him hope.
On your deathbed.
You asked me to put in your Elton John CD, Songs from the West Coast, so I did. And because you thought you had hurt my feelings the day before when you were so very tired, you asked me to sit beside you on the couch. You scratched my upper back with your fingernails– a side-to-side repetative, horizontal motion– loving on me, making me feel so relaxed I could have melted right into the upholstery. No words spoken.
There were no more visitors that day. Just you and me and my teenage son, Heath. Phyllis joined us when she got off work, all of us in our places. Heath dozing on your antique Federal Sofa, you and Phyllis talking into the wee hours on the couch…and me on the floor, just below…catching a few hours of sleep so I could hold down the fort in the day.
The act of dying no longer frightened me. With your dignity restored, you called the shots. No more oxygen tank. You wanted your friends to have the freedom to smoke. To be themselves. To visit like they’d always done before. No restrictions. This was your house.
You knew that an oxygen tank was not going to increase your days.
Outside of the hospital, our own system had fallen right into place like tiny pieces of an intricate puzzle that were always meant to be.
Remember the day you took Ty and Heath for what began as a little walk along Soldier Creek and ended up a huge adventure that they still talk about nearly 20 years after the fact? I don’t know what exactly you all did that day. All I know for certain is that I missed out on something awesome.
I was taking care of little people. You took over my sons for the day and created a wonderful memory.
Today was Easter. Ty talked about that Soldier Creek adventure while we visited. We’ve settled into a sweet holiday routine of an informal come-and-go open house. No one is excluded. No one is belittled. This home–with intention–is filled with love. You would like it here. The most important rule is that no one is allowed to be hungry.
You were a little girl whose life was filled with adventure. You were a Naughty Ballerina turned Rodeo Cowgirl. Hearing Bible stories from your mom was not enough for you; you had to act them out.
Take Baby Moses.
You’d dress a baby doll and put it in a basket and pretend to float it down the River Nile. It simply was not enough for you. You wanted something warm and tangible. You wanted your own baby brother. You didn’t hesitate to express this desire to your mother who had not even given birth to you.
I know this is where you learned the ultimate adventure of faith…and what a ride that can be.
Your precious mother told you that she couldn’t help you–though she didn’t leave you powerless. No. That wasn’t her style. She sent you straight to the source. “If you want a baby brother, you need to talk to God about that.”
And that’s exactly what you did. You were five years old. You talked to God until your mother’s phone rang and it was Deaconess Hospital. They told her that there was a little boy who was born almost a month ago and would she like to give him a home?
Your little girl prayers floated that infant boy into the hands of the perfect adoptive mother just as sure as Miriam’s basket floated Baby Moses to his own princess mother in Egypt.
You continued to play out the scenario…dressing your real life Baby Moses and putting him into a basket. Once upon a time he did not want to hear that story. Now, though….now it touches him to the core. It comforts him in times of challenge. It builds his faith and gives him hope for his future. It helps him remember that God has never once left anything unfinished.
I wish I’d asked you more questions about the time you ran away from home and went to San Francisco. You were so young. Younger than Breezy. I cannot imagine the horror you put your mother through.
All I know is that you ran away from home and found God.
The one adventure you would never have chosen for yourself was that short time spent in a teaching hospital. It sucks to be the teaching material. Especially when your days are numbered. At that point, all you want is familiarity. The comfort of home, friends, family, love. Not strangers poking and prodding, clothed in a tiny sheet with arm-holes and a constant breeze blowing through the open back. Educated dictatorship where you have been reduced to a slab of meat and have no say in anything regarding your own person. Not even the dignity of being taken outside to feel the sun’s warmth on your skin.
The one adventure I would never have chosen for myself was getting you out of there. In those 3 days and nights with you, I learned how to refuse to take “no” for an answer. We got you out and took you to the only place you wanted to be: sitting on your own couch with Theresa’s 20 year old cat in the house your parents built 40 years ago.
This was the beginning of your last adventure.
I’m thinking of B-52’s, Depeche Mode, Tina Turner, Godsmack. Most of all, I remember Nat King Cole.
All those nights, sitting at your mother’s kitchen table while the rest of the world was sleeping. Only because we both worked Vampire Hours.
Your impressive CD collection—the Baptist Hymnals rescued from the house your father owned in Purcell. Every time we sat at that table in the wee hours of the a.m., it was always centered around music.
Somehow, though, Nat King Cole stands out in my mind.
When that CD played, your eyes would close and you’d softly sing along to “Unforgettable” as the cigarette that burned between your fingers grew ash longer than any I’d ever seen before.
Breezy recently found a new radio station you’d love: The Martini. They play all those oldies. Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra.
Nat King Cole.
I cannot listen one day without thinking of you. That is our station now.
Seven years ago today, it wasn’t Easter. Easter that year fell on April 11, right before I went out of town to meet Christie for French Quarter Fest.
When I came back home on April 20, I went straight to the hospital to visit you. I looked into your eyes and I was haunted. The light in your baby blues had diminished so dramatically, it frightened me.
“Where were you?” you asked me.
“I’ve been out of town for the last five days,” I answered.
“I need you to get me out of here,” you told me, the fading light of your blue eyes unwavering. “Between you and my mom….y’all can get me out of here.”
Beautiful, vibrant, loving. Common denominator of us all.
Did I already mention loving?
When I would visit your mother in her hospital room, the nurses would come in and without fail ask, “Evelyn….who is this?” and she would answer without fail, “She used to be my daughter-in-law. Now she’s just my daughter.”
Before I’d gone out of town, we’d taken you to the emergency room. You, me, and your life-long friend Norma—stopping at Sonic with all the road construction along the way so you could get your daily Route 44 Dr. Pepper—driving away with you asking about the car-hop, “did y’all tip her enough?”
Your physical discomfort was concentrated somewhere in your back. I was recovering from back surgery. I’d had an advocate when I was so beaten down by the ungodly pain that I couldn’t seem to speak loud enough for anyone to hear me. I wanted to be your advocate.
There was also that lump in your breast. Sometimes when I look back, I wonder if you had a death wish.
We all but got kicked out of the emergency room that day. You had no health insurance. All you had were the films from your mammogram and the words of the precious woman who’d read them: Get to the emergency room as soon as possible.
You called me that night. You wanted to drink. You asked me to drive. And so we set out.
You drank all the Miller Lite you wanted. I drank water.
You studied the jukebox for a long time before putting your money in. When you made your decision, we listened to Three Dog Night.
With every song, you had a story to tell. It was almost like a story of your life but only the beginning part—the part where you knew you were somehow separate from your upbringing. The part when you realized you were Terry but not necessarily a Townsend.
You told me about the time that your sweet parents took you to Spring Lake Amusement Park. You’d never heard any music in your life besides Gospel or country. On this particular day, you heard Three Dog Night and it somehow changed your life.
You came alive on the inside and you knew there was something out there beyond horse-racing-barrels and your own backyard.
There was music.